Judge declines to remove referendum from November ballot

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A judge declined Monday to remove a referendum on a $1 billion hydropower transmission project from the November ballot, ruling that constitutional questions can be addressed later if the referendum is enacted.

Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren said in his ruling that the lawsuit raises important questions about the separation of powers under the Maine Constitution but said the “substantive challenges to the validity of the proposed initiative may not be reviewed at this time.”

The lawsuit brought by Avangrid, the parent company of Central Maine Power, contends the Maine Constitution links referendums to legislative acts, not agency decisions. It also contends the referendum violates the state constitution’s separation of powers.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap agrees on the constitutional issue but proposed keeping the matter on the ballot as an advisory referendum.

The referendum was originally envisioned as giving voters the final say on the New England Clean Energy Connect, which has received approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Land Use Planning Commission and Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The project calls for construction of a 145-mile (233-kilometer) high-voltage power line from Mount Beattie Township on the Canadian border to the regional power grid in Lewiston, Maine. Most of the project would follow existing utility corridors, but a new path would have to be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of wilderness.

Supporters say the project would reduce carbon pollution and stabilize utility rates. Hydro Quebec would be the energy supplier.

Critics say the project would spoil part of Maine’s North Woods and that the environmental benefits are overstated.